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  • Writer's pictureAlison Bailey Vercruysse

A Hen’s Life on a pasture raised farm in Santa Rosa

Updated: Oct 4, 2022

Eating eggs pre-dates written history. Our early ancestors most likely saw other creatures invading birds’ nests for food and decided to steal some for themselves. Domesticating hens had to be a matter of survival as they may peck at us but, they cannot eat us. Now, pasture raised domesticated hens have a cushy life in exchange for their eggs. At least, that’s how they live on the Leras Family Farm in Santa Rosa, California.

Eggs an essential component of a vegetarian and omnivore’s diet contain a whopping seven grams of protein per 75 calories as well as choline in the yolk which may enhance brain development (1). One of the only food sources with Vitamin D, eggs depend on hens to lay them. How these hens are treated can determine whether there is even more valuable nutrition to be gained from the egg.

Leaping for joy around the chicken coop at the Leras Family Farm in Santa Rosa, CA, our dog Panda, a dwarf Bernedoodle, loves to stir up hens. Although Panda is unsuccessful at catching one, I do not think that is his desire.

Concerned for the chickens welfare, my husband Craig chases after Panda. Craig slides like a baseball player stealing a base to grab Panda (unfortunately not in the video). He ends up much more beaten up physically than the chickens emotionally as his legs scrape along the dirt.

The 200 hens inhabit the farm in three hen houses set inside a vast play area surrounded by a six foot high poultry fence. The gate to which remains open during the day. Free to roam the rest of the farm and garden at their leisure, the hens feed on food scraps, garden harvested veggies and insects in their path along

with a supplemental diet to ensure they eat their fill including a tub of raw milk from the resident Guernsey cows.

Plenty of creatures lie in wait in the wild for a free dinner - coyotes, foxes and owls. Hens prefer to fly up into tree branches to sleep which doesn't bode well for their survival. It's not an easy job for the farmer; the renegade hens have to be wooed out of the trees to go into the safety of the hen houses at night. Outfitted with ladders and 2x4's to imitate tree branches, the hens perch on these when the sun goes down. The hens awaken at sunrise, and politely exit the hen houses one at at time.

”Once the new chickens get their feathers, I will find six to eight of them in the trees”, says Michael Leras the farm owner. “Not so easy to get them down and in the house, I have to grab them. After awhile, they get trained and almost all go in (at night) except for one of two rebels, “

The chickens lay about one egg/day in the hen houses either in the plush cubbies filled with pine shavings. Or, if they find some other place they feel secure such as this burrowed hole in the compost heap.

A hen goes into a meditative state before laying an egg; her eyes rolling back in her head. Once the egg arrives, the chicken keeps it warm for a bit before remembering she's hungry and leaves the roost. My son seems to go into a zen state too as he waits for the hens to depart the nest and gently retrieves the egg.

The eggs sell at the Berkeley Farmers Market for $12/dozen which may seem like a vast sum considering “cage free” eggs at a grocery store sell for around $3.79 per dozen.

Consider what you are getting for the more expensive egg:

  • A peace of mind knowing the chicken lives a good life

  • Rich buttery taste from the orange yolk

  • Better nutrition - In a PSU study, pasture raised eggs had twice as much Vitamin E and long chain omega-3 fats, acids compared to those fed a commercial diet (2)

Let’s break this down a bit. If you are a meat eater, pasture raised hamburger meat costs about $10/pound, about three servings or $3.33. Eating two eggs for a meal costs $2. In addition to being considered vegetarian and more nutritious, pasture raised eggs are less expensive than meat. Gram to gram, eggs have the same amount of protein as ground beef - 7g/50g serving.

Where Do The Chickens Come From?

Chicks get delivered in the post, and they don’t all turn out to be female. A few roosters may end up in the bunch which leads to a more noisy environment; one where the females seem to be on edge. At 18 weeks, a chicken can lay their first egg.

What happens after their prime years?

At two years of age, chickens at the Leras Family Farm are sold to other families who want to have hens for homegrown eggs.

Egg labeling can confuse even the most savvy consumer. Here are the differences when shopping at a food market.

Pasture Raised chickens roam free on land and forage for food along with supplemental food to ensure they get all they need. Hens instinctively hunt for bugs and eat as many as they choose.

Organic means the hens eat organic feed (free of harmful pesticides or synthetic fertilizers). Organic does not mean pasture raised but, the hens are cage free and given some area to access along with direct sunlight.

Cage Free eggs require the hens have enough space with a little extra wiggle room.

These eggs have increased in supply over the last decade to 28% from 4% of the supply in the U.S. due in large part to consumer demand at fast foods chains(3).

Grade AA, A and B - USDA shell grading has nothing to do with how the chickens are raised. Voluntary for the egg producer, the grades only applies to the transparency of the whites and possibility of blood spots in the eggs.

Liquid, pasteurized and homogenized eggs tend to remove flavor and possibly nutrition depending on the ratio used to blend them. These tend to be found on hotel breakfast buffets that use them for the omelets and scrambled eggs.

Pasteurized eggs are gently heated to “kill” possible bacteria; it also can kill the rich flavor and mess with the texture.

Vegetarian Fed means the chickens have no access to outside as a hen’s natural instinct is to scratch the ground and eat bugs.

(1), Good Eggs:For Nutrition, They’re Hard to Beat.

(3), McFetridge, Scott, Egg producers shift as public demand for cage-free hens grows


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